O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
(Ps 131, ESV)
After posting this quote from Bonhoeffer, I couldn’t keep it from running around in my mind:
We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word
What was true in Bonhoeffer’s day is infinitely more true in our American society today. Walking around the office or on the street, it’s rare to spy someone who isn’t on the phone, listening to music, or talking to somebody else. At people’s houses I often notice they leave televisions on when no one is actively watching–my children are as guilty of this as anyone–leaving the TV on while doing something else. And when was the last time you drove anywhere without the radio in your vehicle?
We surround ourselves with noise, even noise just for noise’s sake.
We can’t stand silence, even for a few moments…much to our detriment.
As Bonhoeffer points out, silence often begets introspection–something we tend to avoid in our superstar-obsessed society that demands we always look and act perfect no matter how far this diverges from reality. Christians are no better than secular society here, unfortunately. Somewhere along the line even Evangelical culture became obsessed with putting on a veneer of perfection no matter our true condition. Jesus had a term for this sort of thing–’white-washed tombs.’ Looking at ourselves and our souls in the mirror is an idea we simply cannot stand, because such an exercise necessitates admitting our flaws, weaknesses, imperfections, and sin. Our culture–even our Christian subculture–will have nothing of the sort because we are consumed with showing our (apparent) perfection, (seeming) success, and (the facade) of never-ending happiness.
Silence also begets waiting–also something we dislike in our society. We wait for nothing, even though those things that are most truly satisfying are often gained through patient waiting. Waiting, especially a Christian form of waiting, can take many forms: prayer, fasting, and contemplation to name a few. As a rule, Evangelical Christians have a pretty poor track record of these sorts of disciplines. We dismiss them as ascetic, outmoded, or legalistic. Perhaps we commit an even worse foul and write them off as “Catholic” (or “Orthodox”) and then fail to give them a second thought.
Here’s a hard truth. Silence, and its subsequent introspection and waiting, forms an integral part of the biblical witness and nearly 2,000 years of Christian practice. As uncomfortable as this reality might be to our culture of the instantaneous, we are much the poorer for our neglect.
Create silence. Take fifteen minutes–or ten, or five, or even one if that’s all you can bear at first–and be silent. Be silent before the mirror of God’s law and your own introspection. Wait patiently for God. Use this time to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (Jas 4.8, ESV)
We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word
justifiedandsinner has some remarkable thoughts on luxury, simplicity, and our idols to ring in the new year. They are hard words to read but ones we must nonetheless take to heart:
The Gospel that talks of our being freed from idolatry, as we are united with Christ, as we walk with Him. As we put things into an eternal perspective and we don’t cling to that which can be destroyed, When we realize that freed from such economic idols, we can show love to those who are our neighbors, without evaluating the economic impact on us and our family. The gospel that exchanges false gods for a God who comes to us, setting aside His riches, because of the love He has for us, who were not part of His family, but now are.
Such a detachment isn’t easy, we like being comfortable, we enjoy our flat screens and cars, we like seeing the work of hands rewarded with accomplishments and being assured that everything will be there. But now we are going back to valuing an idol more than a real God. It’s hard for me, even as I write this, to not hear it speaking to me. To find oneself detached from things, and freer to love and to care and to serve. Able to use the resources God gives us, for that which would being Him glory, as we live like Christ. It doesn’t change our work ethic, in fact, knowing we can help others may drive us to work harder, sacrificing more as we see the eternal rewards of people coming to know God’s love. It is a higher calling a higher purpose, a reason to invest ourselves in, this detachment that frees us from idols, and helps us imitate Christ as we find ourselves putting others before ourselves.
I encourage you to read the rest here.
I have not written anything in days. My mind is racing, eager to write but prevented by my own stubbornness. Why? My calendar is packed, as we have two family birthdays and Christmas celebrations in the next seven days. It doesn’t take much time to write, but it does take some…and that precious “some” is what I have been unwilling to yield. And for what? Marginally more available time in the day to cram full of other things? Hardly a good or reasonable answer.
As with any habit, the further away you get from the last time you practiced it, the easier it is to put off yet again. Skip the gym for one day, and it’s easy to get back to it. Skip the gym for a month or so, and it’s nearly impossible to regain your momentum and drive. So it is with writing, reading, family worship, and (fill in the blank).
And so today I write, even if only to write about my lack of writing.
I look forward to taking time away from everything else to write for a few moments each day. I treasure the opportunity as a time to pause, release, and recharge before jumping back into the stream of busyness that surrounds this time of year. The feeling is a distant second to times of prayer and bible reading, but for those who are familiar with this sort of rejuvenation–as I assume many of you are–writing for me is similar. A time to listen. A time to think. A time to create.
Let this exercise today be an encouragement to keep good habits nearby where they may be nurtured and enjoyed, practiced and honed, kept alive and even strengthened. If you want to develop the habit of writing, write. To develop the habit of prayer, pray. To develop any habit, do it…and continue doing it until it becomes part of who you are. Then, when life derails your practice, it is easier to get back to the routine.
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
– Henry David Thoreau
No matter where you live in the northern hemisphere, the routine of Autumn has set in, the weather is growing colder, and the days are growing shorter. The cycle of school is firmly in place. The hectic pace of our vocations in the midst of holidays makes causes many to put their noses to the proverbial grindstones and press forward to accomplish everything necessary before the workplace doldrums of Christmas and New Year’s weeks arrive. Even as we prepare for Christmas, many of us are so busy with self-imposed obligations that we give hardly more than a passing thought to spiritual things.
Advent won’t let us off so easy, however.
The season of Advent calls us to wake up and be aware of the presence of God in our lives and our world. 1
Instead of being consumed by the ever-increasing pace of contemporary life, we Christians are called–perhaps paradoxically–to slow down. Advent is a new beginning. It is a time to shake off the habitual rhythms of busyness and begin again a lifestyle of deliberate focus on Christ and our lives in him. This is more than a call to nostalgic simplicity of days gone by, it is a matter of spiritual life and death. For in our daily hustle and bustle, we tend to develop an unhealthy self-reliance
When [we think we can do things on our own] God becomes remote and even absent from our lives. We may go for days without any sense of God, without recourse to prayer, or without concern to hear God speak to us through his Word. 2
Such self-reliance becomes spiritually deadly in its slow, unnoticeable withdrawal from our source of life: our Triune God and the very means he has established to create, sustain, and nourish our faith, the Word and Sacrament.
Slow down. Pause. Reflect. Wonder. Listen. Re-connect. Wake up to the presence of God.
Writing daily is never something I have been a habit I’ve managed to cultivate. Over and over I read about how building such a habit is transformational for one’s writing style and abilities. One doesn’t necessarily have to publish every day, but one needs to write.
- sit down
- write / bleed (to be Hemingway-esque) until you’ve reached your quota for the day
Don’t worry about inspiration. Don’t worry about writer’s block. Don’t worry about quality or audience or anything.
So I am going to try. I am going to try and write 300 words per day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and in fact, it isn’t…but it’s more than I’m doing now. I have a dismal track record of creating new habits like writing, reading Greek / Hebrew, working out as often as I’d like, etc. Absolutely dismal.
But I hope it can be different this time. I don’t exactly know how to make it different. I haven’t a clue. I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo or anything. I’ve no way to be accountable to anyone other than myself. I haven’t even figured out if I want to put this down in Todoist as a task. No idea. None. Nada.
This is something I want to do. I want to write. I wish I could say I only wanted to write to get my ideas on paper (or electrons). That sounds so romantic and poetic. But there’s definitely a part of me that wants to write to be read–to have my ideas interacted with, torn apart, agreed with, or questioned. I want my writing to make a difference to someone who may have never thought about whatever subject I’m writing on or who may have struggled with the very thing for months or years. I want to write, not for praises, but to make a difference.
Obvious or not, adoption and suffering often go hand-in-hand. Infertility, miscarriage, disease, sickness, accidents, death, infidelity, grief, separation, insecurity, tragedy, heartbreak, pain, jealousy, rebellion, and loneliness are just a few of the multitude of hardships patiently and expectantly endured by many (or most) adoptive families, both children and parents. Everyone is able to understand some of them, at least empathetically, but those who have not experienced the process first-hand have a hard time recognizing the totality of difficulties faced in adoption.
It is in the pain, suffering, and sometimes evil circumstances that accompany adoption that God does some of his most marvelous work. That is why a quote I recently read from Miroslav Volf impacted me so much:
God works against evil and suffering. But God, in immense divine power and inscrutable divine wisdom, also works through evil and suffering.
Struggling with years of miscarriages and infertility definitely counts as suffering, but if my wife and I didn’t endure that suffering, I don’t know if we would have have chosen to adopt and would not have been blessed with three of the four children we have today. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of a mother leaving her infant son–himself a result of infidelity–on the steps of an orphanage in Ukraine; but if it weren’t for that grief, I would never have known and loved my older son. I would never wish for children to have to endure watching their mother live with the horrors of and finally succumb to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, but if it weren’t for that suffering, our younger daughter and son would not be in our family today. I certainly have not wished the many hurdles upon my family that adapting to a multi-ethnic, multi-adoptive family has brought us, but out of those struggles have come some of the most grace-created, joy-filled memories of my life.
God certainly does not will evil, suffering, pain, or loss. But in the midst of those, he is most certainly at work.
I haven’t given up blogging for Lent, but my blogging will be slowing down for the next six months as I begin my current master’s thesis. I will be researching and writing a Just War tradition (JWT) evaluation on the United States’ use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA or “drones”). The paper will look at both the use of RPA in theory and in practice and see whether the jus in bello (justice in war) facets of JWT challenge us to make changes in either our doctrine or praxis.
My initial hunch is that, while placing a greater burden to be used ethically than traditional weapons systems, there is nothing inherently immoral about RPA. I also expect to find that our current use of RPA around the world violates the jus in bello JWT principle of discrimination more than other weapons systems. These are only my initial gut feelings, however, and I am open to whatever my research suggests.
Either way, things will be slower around here for the next few months. I still plan to post from time to time, though, so don’t abandon me completely!
- se-ri-ous: solemn, grave, somber
- sin-cere: genuine, honest, earnest
I like to joke. I like to laugh. I like to be intentionally eccentric just to draw a reaction. I like to make scandalous statements to spark conversation. I do this at home and at work. And some people simply don’t get it.
“You can’t be serious,” they chide.
To tell the truth. They’re right. By the dictionary definitions above, most of the time I am not serious. There are times and places for serious, no doubt, but most of life doesn’t fall into that space. The problem, as I see it, is that many (most?) Westerners have wrongly conflated seriousness and sincerity.
Much of the time I am not serious, but I always strive to be sincere. To use the cliche, sincerity means ‘what you see is what you get.’ Sincerity is a must in our world where facade rules–in politics, in relationships, in the workplace, in the church, etc. (More on that last one later…)
So, lighten up. Be sincere all the time, but don’t always be so bloody serious.
You have my permission.
If you don’t read Courtney Carver’s blog on simplicity/minimalism, “Be More With Less,” you should. With her down-to-earth writing style, she routinely publishes gems that are worth your time if you at all interested in paring down and simplifying. Today, she cuts to the chase and reminds us:
You aren’t your stuff and it will never make you more lovable.
In America we need to hear this truth again and again, but what more fitting time than in the midst of the self-inflicted chaos of the holidays when even Christians are focused on the busyness and the ‘stuff’ instead of the quiet anticipation of Advent and the Nativity.
Read her entire post and feel free to tell us what you think…
Today I want to write but have really nothing to say.
I simply want…
- to feel my pen glide over the paper
- to hear the soft scratching of the nib on the page
- to watch the glisten of the wet ink as it dries
- to hear the jazz music playing softly in the background
- to touch the smooth paper and hard angles of my pen
- to smell the faith scent of my steeping pot of tea
- to write
I simply want to write and get caught up in the delight of the moment.
Once in a while a book comes along that you don’t want to keep reading but just can’t stand put down–the kind of book that cuts to the core of the problems facing the church and points out what a life seized by Christ looks like. My list of books in this category is short: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel, David Platt’s Radical…and most recently, Embracing Obscurity.
From the opening pages, this anonymous work rightly calls our over-inflated egos on the carpet and points out the delusional drunkenness of our sinful pride:
We’re all intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognized, appreciated, and respected. We crave to be a “somebody” and do notable things, to achieve our dreams and gain the admiration of others. To be something–anything–other than nothing.
The trouble with you and me and rest of humanity is not that we lack self-confidence (as we’re told by the world) but that we have far too much self-importance. The thought of being just another of the roughly one hundred billion people to have ever graced this planet offends us–whether we realize it or not.
Encouraging, right? It should be. It should be very encouraging that, as anonymous and obscure as we truly are, we are loved by an omnipotent and eternal God who, in the ultimate act of humble obscurity, took on humanity to dwell among us and die a criminal’s death (Phil 2.6-8). Here, in Christ, is our true significance, and here we find the strength to subdue our pride and embrace obscurity that God might be magnified in our lives.
After showing us where our true significance lies, the author spends the rest of this powerful work encouraging us to follow Christ by embracing servanthood, suffering, and the mystery (from the world’s point of view) of the Christian lifestyle that is so counter to our culture. Most importantly, we are reminded, we have a finite amount of time in order to glorify God in our earthly lives:
You will die. Maybe today; maybe fifty years from now. How will you spend the seconds, hours, days, and years you have left? Will you waste your time loving the things of this world, worrying about your star rating, and focusing on your success? Or will you invest the remainder of your life “seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers”? Will you take on the disposition of Christ, submitting to God’s will, loving justice and mercy, serving selflessly and loving fully? Will you walk worthy of the glorious gospel–even if no one ever knows your name?
I am not overstating when I say that this book has the potential to send you off in a direction you never thought you would go. It’s message is uncomfortable. It is unsettling. And it is absolutely necessary.
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)
My first post on building habits focused on why establishing habits is so difficult then looked at Leo Babauta’s four-step (plus one) method of starting new habits. In this post, I want to suggest a few very practical things that have helped me:
- (re-) start working out three to four times a week
- spend twenty to thirty minutes studying Greek each morning
- create regular stress breaks during the workday
- begin daily dad-daughter ‘checkups’ with my teenage daughter
Nothing in these tips is terribly earth-shattering, but there may be some things you have never thought to try and that may be just the thing to help get over the dreaded inertia and create new habits in your life.
1. Put habits on your calendar–It may sound obvious or just plain silly, but I’ve found it helpful to actually schedule in time into my daily routine for whatever habit it is I’m trying to establish. If you’re like many, if something is not on your calendar, it may as well not exist. This is not necessarily a bad thing (thought it may well be), and for many in the corporate world, it is an unavoidable reality. If you see it on your schedule and protect that time as sacred, you’re more likely to follow through and get that inertia going in your favor. So, pencil in some time for new habits!
2. Schedule things at an odd time–I enjoy working out (typically running) but hate, abhor, despise early morning workouts. Yes, I get it that the rest of the world likes to run first thing in the morning. Not me. I dreaded doing it and eventually stopped…until I scheduled my running times in mid/late afternoon. It’s a quirky time to run, but I find myself looking forward to breaking the afternoon duldrums and getting out of the office. Try scheduling your hard to stick to new habit at an off-time and see how it goes!
3. Declutter other areas to make physical / emotional room–This may also sound obvious or impossible, but sometimes you need to get rid of something in order to add something. Perhaps there is physical time in your schedule but you find yourself emotionally unable to add “one more thing.” Find something to cut. Maybe you drop a routine meeting that you have no business actually attending. Maybe it’s a time catching up on news. Maybe you eliminate that inevitable late afternoon gathering around the water cooler. There’s doubtless some thing you could cut out for the sake of a new good habit.
The anticipation of filling a blank notebook,
the effortless glide of a fountain pen on the page,
the beauty of cobalt blue ink,
the scent of a freshly-sharpened wooden pencil,
the quiet scratching of graphite on paper,
the therapeutic slowing down of the printed word,
…these are some of the joys from a love of paper.
photo credit: Creative Commons License | Amir Kuckovic via Compfight
There is a part of every writer that wants to be accepted, to be valued, and to make an indelible mark on the world. If it were not so, no one would ever publish anything but would keep their own thoughts tucked away inside private journals. Chasing that acceptance, however, is fatal because it tends to make writers pursue that elusive thrill for thrill’s sake. Instead of writing for its own sake or to satisfy the muse, we begin to write for recognition–in the case of blogging that recognition comes in the form of site stats, comments, shares, etc.
Writing is not about recognition. I doubt the most treasured writers on my shelf–Shakespeare, Tolkien, Thoreau, Frost, or Hemingway (to name a few)–ever wrote, taught, or spoke merely for recognition. They wrote and taught and spoke because they had to, because it was what they did and who they were.
- I don’t write to pay the bills, so site stats no longer are the gauge of success
- I don’t write ‘for the fame’ (to quote Lady Gaga), so comments no longer matter
- I don’t write because I’m seeking to sway anyone about anything, so shares are no longer important
I write simply because I am a writer.
You’re welcome to comment, interact, or share if something resonates with you…in fact, please do…but I won’t be disappointed if you don’t.
PS: If you want to read some great encouragement along these same lines, check out Jeff Goins’ (@jeffgoins) You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)…it’s free today on Amazon. I profit nothing from his work, and that’s no affiliate link, BTW.
photo credit: Creative Commons License Insomnia PHT via Compfight
As with every new habit, there is the struggle between the ‘old way’ and the ‘new way’ of doing things. For every new habit one seeks to create, there is at least one old habit that must be broken and put away. Fact is, it all comes down to inertia.
Remember inertia from high school physics? You probably do, but as a reminder for me:
“Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion.” (Wikipedia)
Put simply, it’s easier to keep doing what you’re doing–even if that is nothing but wasting time–than it is to start something new.
Inertia explains why it is hard to create new habits, even positive ones we want to create. It also explains why it is easier to keep up with a habit (good or bad) once it is established and becomes ‘normal.’ So, physics lesson aside, given that creating new habits involves wrestling against one of the most fundamental forces of nature…how can we pull it off?
There are many good articles on forming new habits, but one of my favorites was written about a year ago by Leo Babauta on Zen Habits. Take a few minutes to read and digest the entire post (here), but he suggests four points:
- Make it social–find a way to hold yourself accountable
- Do one habit at a time only–don’t change too many things at once
- Make it your top priority–if you don’t have time, make time
- Enjoy the habit–the more you enjoy it, the longer you’ll stick with it
To Leo’s four, I’ll suggest one more: Forgive yourself for tripping up. It is important to hold this closely in tension with accountability. While you want to have encouragement to succeed, life will inevitably get in the way and cause you to fail, at least once. In those times it’s important to forgive yourself and press on resolved to continue building the new habit. The alternative is to become frustrated and give up a la New Year’s resolutions.
Inertia is tough to overcome. Can you do it and create new habits? Of course!
What new habits are you working on or have you recently established? What helped you overcome inertia and succeed in creating those new habits?
Faith tells us that God alone can supply the material things on which we depend. He gives some people more than they need, not that they can enjoy great luxury, but to make them stewards of this bounty on behalf of orphans, the sick, and the crippled. If they are bad stewards, keeping this bounty to themselves, they will become poor in spirit, and their hearts will fill with misery. If they are good stewards, they will become rich in spirit, their hearts filling with joy.
I love technology. I love gadgets. After all, I work for NASA, which is pretty much a technophiles dream. Technology is certainly a blessing that allows us to accomplish more at work so we can, ideally, spend quality time with those we love away from the workplace.
There is one place, however, where technology simply doesn’t work for me–note taking.
I hate lugging my laptop around everyplace and using it to take notes in meetings. It is impersonal and distracting. It is clumsy and inconvenient. My tablets (first an iPad and now a Nexus 7) have proven no better insofar as no handwriting app can adequately handle my small, precise handwriting. I’ve tried countless ones and been dissatisfied with all of them.
That leaves me with one option that never disappoints–paper and pencil.
Am I a dinosaur? Hardly. The benefits of paper and pencil in an electronic world are as legion as they are overlooked. For example:
- paper and pencil are distraction free, unlike my gadgets
- my notepad is always on and never has dead batteries
- there is essentially zero eyestrain, even after a day of taking notes
- I have worry-free control of format, font size, drawings, highlights, etc.
- the act of writing things down reinforces them in memory as typing cannot
- I love the nostalgic smell of sharpening a wooden pencil
- write, scan to Evernote (to get all the benefits of digital notes), recycle…paper airplanes!
There is for me something intensely but intangibly satisfying about writing ideas down on paper. It is almost as if writing is therapy.
Total distraction-free productivity? A pot of tea, a pad of paper, a freshly sharpened pencil, and a view out my window of a beautiful blue sky.
Most jobs do not mandate that you check email after work. Yet, most of us do…Ironically, most things you read in your work email can’t be addressed until you get back to work anyway.
– Craig Jarrow, Time Management Ninja (full article here)
Do Craig’s words ring true with you, or are you one of the blessed few that manages to keep work email where it belongs, at work? I confess, I used to check my work email at home several times a night. I mean, I work real-time operations for NASA, I’m on the clock 24-7 and cannot afford to miss anything…or so I used to think.
Since last October, however, I’ve been on military leave. As you would expect, because of the additional security required, it is a pain to check my military email from home. So I quit. Finished. Cold turkey. And you know what? Everything was fine. If anything ultra-important came up after hours I receive a phone call. NASA, I’m sure works the same way. I honestly have no idea though, because in five years nothing has ever come up after hours that we didn’t wait until first thing in the morning to address. Space stations don’t fall out of the sky overnight it seems.
Craig doesn’t suggest it in his article, but perhaps the reason we addict ourselves to continual email is that we are dissatisfied with things and want to think we are more important to ‘the man’ than we truly are. The solution to that issue cannot be found by checking email more often. It is found by engaging the real people who are right in front of you. As he points out:
So, turn off that email and turn on your life.
Put the phone down.
Say hello to the person in the room with you.
They just might want to talk to you, too.
What a novel idea!
On this 4th of July, while we Americans are celebrating the birth of our great nation, let us challenge ourselves to look beyond our often-myopic view of the world and celebrate something bigger–our inter-dependence. Last year, Shane Claiborne wrote:
We are taught to celebrate independence. But independence and individualism have come at a great price. In the wealthy and industrialized countries we have become the richest people in the world, but we also have some of the highest rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide. We are rich, sad, and lonely. We are living into patterns that not only leave much of the world hungry for bread and starved for justice but also leave us longing for the good life and for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves.
The good news is that we are not alone in the world.
This year, let’s celebrate Interdependence Day — recognizing the fact that we are part of a global neighborhood. Let’s appreciate all the invisible people in our lives, and let’s lament the fact that the human family is terribly dysfunctional.
My challenge for us today…after celebrating our nation’s Independence and even pausing to thank God for it, let’s do something more. Start by reading Shane’s entire article, “This July 4th, Let’s Celebrate Inter-Dependence Day.” Then, pick one of the thirty-eight things on Shane’s list, or come up with something original that you or your family can do today.
How’d it go?
How can we cultivate humble virtue in a world measured in likes and comments and retweets? How will [our children] learn that doing justice and loving mercy requires more than a link or a mention?
Kristen (This Classical Life) has written a marvelous piece today about parenting and social media. It is a brilliant piece that asks the above two piercing questions that strike at the heart of parenting, being present, and living simply.
The whole point of social media, after all, is to connect us with people with whom we are physically not present. At the same time, as we see everyday, that ‘connection’ often comes at the expense of relationships and connections with the people right in front of us.
I encourage you to go read “Parenting in the Age of Social Media” and think deeply about the questions she raises there…
If your meeting room, your board room, or your office (take your pick) isn’t a nursery for ideas, a rumpus room where seals frolic, forget it. Burn the table, lock the room, fire the clerks. You will rarely come up with any ideas worth entertaining. The full room with the heavy people trudging in with long faces to solve problems by beating them to death is very death itself. Serious confrontations rarely arrive at serious ends. Unless the people you meet with are fun loving kids out for a romp, tossing ideas like confetti, and letting the damn bits fall where they may, no spirit will ever rouse, no notion will ever birth, no love will be mentioned, no climax reached. You must swim at your meetings, you must jump for baskets, you must take hefty swings for great or missed drives, you must run and dive, you must fall and roll, and when the fun stops, get the hell out.
– credited to Ray Bradbury in The Leader’s Edge
Today is St. Patrick’s day, and as such, it is my duty to revisit the same thoughts my mind turns to every year on this day. For many of us, St. Paddy’s day is little more than an excuse for a party–and there’s no problem with that. In the revelry that goes along with St. Patrick’s day, however, we would do right by the patron saint of Ireland to recall one critical fact about his life…St. Patrick was a child slave.
Those who remember today only as an excuse to dye rivers green, consume rivers of green beer, wear green, and engage in other mostly juvenile shenanigans would do well to remember the 27 million modern-day slaves in the world today.
- St. Patrick was one of them.
- St. Patrick broke free.
- St. Patrick changed the course of Irish history (and by extension much of the west) forever.
More than that, we should all take advantage of that sobering reality to learn more about the issues and take action to put an end to it. For starters, go to Free the Slaves or ACT:S (to name only to worthwhile organizations) and learn just how how horrible and widespread slavery is today—spoiler: it is far more of a problem today than it ever was is 19th century America. And it isn’t just an overseas problem. Slavery exists right here in the USA today.
We have the power to set the captives free.
We have the power to end slavery in our generation.
Now that would be something I’d raise a pint of green beer to celebrate!
Just over a year ago I dreamed up and launched “simply, Christian” as an outlet to write about living the simple Christian life—a mashup of simple/minimalist thought and a Christ-centered life.I wanted to change the world.I wrote steadily for a while but then, like so any others, I tapered off. At some point, I pretty much just stopped, jumped over to Tumblr, and started reblogging interesting things other people wrote. Why? Ironically, I was too busy. Pretty hypocritical for a blog focused on simplicity, no? I thought so, too.
Maybe it was hypocrisy.
Maybe it was just a false start.
Maybe I wasn’t committed enough.
Maybe my scope was too big.
Maybe I was just scared.
I’m not sure exactly why I failed, but that’s okay. The fact is, I still want to write, and I still want change the world.
In addition, I want to get back to writing on things theological, as I used to do at Taking Thoughts Captive (which redirects here now, by the way).
So, how exactly am I planning to go about this? After tons of off-line brainstorming, doodling, rambling, and filling up pages of my trusty ecosystem notebook, I think I’ve crafted a model, a vision, a plan both for life and for blogging. It’s a simple approach…
be. share. encourage.
Expanded just a little: be the change…share the change…encourage the change
This model allows me to write on simplicity, change, faith, theology, and everything else I want to without needlessly restricting myself to one particular facet of my interests.
- Will this ‘succeed’ in the eyes of the world? I dunno. I don’t care.
- Will you want to read everything I write here? I dunno. You may be drawn more to theology than simplicity or vice versa. It doesn’t matter.
- Will this succeed in glorifying God, sharing in the work of Christ, and building a community that encourages others to do the same? I hope so.
Will you join me?
live simply…simply live
Regarding the accumulation of riches, Chrysostom writes:
We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often belie our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses, and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that may pagans refuse to believe what we say. “If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,” they ask, “why are they building mansions on earth?”
Oh that the ‘golden-mouthed’ one could see the mass of riches we Christians store up for ourselves, especially in the West and America! Are Jesus’ words too hard for us? Or are others right to conclude that we do not sincerely believe this faith which we confess?
We would do well to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfector of our faith” (Heb 12.1-2, HCSB).
We have no right to our possessions; they have been entrusted to us for the good of all. Let us then invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from him: we are dependent upon him for our very existence. And we ourselves particularly, who have a special and greater debt, since God not only created us but purchased us as well; what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?
It doesn’t have to be epic…
“It doesn’t have to be epic.” Ev Bogue wrote those words in his 30 Dec email newsletter…and I completely agree with him. While simple and sane, this advice is completely contrary to most of the motivation-speak in the world today–whether in books, blogs, G+, TV, or elsewhere and regardless of whether secular or sacred. The buzz of the world, even ironically among those writing about simplicity/minimalism or even Christian living, is fixated on the superlative.
The buzz is wrong. It doesn’t have to be epic.
Your life doesn’t have to be the most amazing. Your house doesn’t have to be the biggest. Your minimalism doesn’t have to be the most spartan. Your blog doesn’t have to have the most readers. Your charity doesn’t have to be the most well-funded. Your children don’t have to be the most involved. Your devotional life doesn’t have to be the most perfect. Your ministry doesn’t have to be the most ‘successful.’ Your church doesn’t have to be the most influential…get it?
What matters more than ‘epicness’ is faithfulness.
Faithfulness to be (i.e. to do), even if you are afraid. Faithfulness to act, even if you aren’t the best. Faithfulness to try, even if you fail. Faithfulness…as Christians…to Christ, even if the world laughs.
Ev was right. It doesn’t have to be epic. It has to be, and it has to be faithful.
(Pssst…If you enjoyed this post, I’d be grateful if you shared it…thanks!)
This is the time of year when people are into making resolutions…resolving to change this or that in the new year, typically along the lines of losing weight, getting in shape, eating better, or something like that. Unfortunately, for most, these resolutions will be little more than speed bumps along the status quo. In a few weeks, things will be right back to the way they were before.
I don’t make resolutions.
Resolutions look the wrong way–backward, to what might have been.
Inspiration, on the other hand, looks the right way–forward, to what might be.
Instead of beginning the year dwelling on what might have been, if only you had some something different last year, seek inspiration and focus on what you might achieve this year. Pursue a dream you’ve been putting off because of it’s supposed impossibility. Take up a new hobby or skill you’ve wanted to do but haven’t.
Start making a difference in the world right where you are.
Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets and “The Road Not Taken” one of my favorite poems. It is all about what happened when the author found inspiration and courage to do something new…
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In 2012, instead of resolving to ‘fix’ the problems of last year, focus on finding inspiration, take the road ‘less traveled by,’ and start changing the world.
It will make all the difference.
(Pssst…If you enjoyed this post, I’d be grateful if you shared it…thanks!)
I have long wrestled with the best way for me to keep track of bible notes. Should I keep them electronically (via Olive Tree BibleReader) or in hardcopy? Currently, I keep them as hardcopies…original language notes in my Greek and Hebrew texts and all others in my HCSB with the super large margins. If it sounds rather cumbersome, it is. But I REALLY like writing notes down, scribbling them in my bibles, marking them up, underlining, etc. There is—to me—a certain satisfaction from using a well-worn bible, and it seems (perhaps it’s only in my head) that there are certain advantages to paper note taking over against electronic means.
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had this debate with myself, so it is about time to have it again. This time, consider that I’m doing extensive work in the LXX and Byzantine Greek texts; starting to refer more and more to my Orthodox Study Bible for English work; and still using my host of BHS, NA27, NLT, and HCSB bibles. The time may well have come to start putting my bible notes in electronic form. ’May’ have come? OK, it’s here.
As much as I love the ubiquity of electronic notes, I’m a little saddened by the inevitable relinquishment of paper notes. Honestly, I’ll probably keep my paper copies alongside my electronic ones at least for now. It’s extra work, I know…but I don’t care. Putting a real pencil on a real sheet of paper is satisfying in a way that moving electrons around on a screen (computer, tablet, or smartphone) is not. What does this have to do with simplicity? Well, my current hardcopy setup is NOT very simple. It uses multiple sets of notes across multiple texts which requires me to lug around a not-so-small pile of books if I want to be sure I have access to ALL my notes. Electronic notes just makes sense. And yet, it’s hard for me to give up my old ways. That’s the lesson that goes beyond just note taking and expands to just about every other area of life. We resist change, even change that is obviously for the better.
So, as we strive to lead simpler lives, we must realize…it’s work. Hard work. Keep at it. Live simply, Christian.
Why grab possessions like thieves, or divide them like socialists when you can ignore them like wise men?
Life moves quickly.
The pace of things in our contemporary world is astounding. Within seconds of an event, millions find out about it on Twitter. Within moments of an idea, friends or co-workers around the world receive an email. Years and months seem like passe measures of time in a world where everything is instant, always on, and continually connected.
Give me seven minutes of your precious time–two minutes to read and five minutes to practice something. I think you’ll be amazed.
Our challenge–slow down. Just for a few minutes.
Part of simple living is slowing down. Slowing down in order to be aware of what is going on around us. Slowing down in order to enjoy the little things in life that bring joy on a minute-by-minute basis. Slowing down to focus on what is important in the midst of the noise and busyness of life.
Part of the Christian life, at least in today’s society, involves slowing down. Slowing down to be aware of the needs around us we might otherwise miss. Slowing down to give thanks for the simple blessings we’re given each day. Slowing down to be deliberately led by Christ instead of blinding following only our to-do lists or calendars.
As simple as is the idea of slowing down, it is also revolutionary and counter-cultural.
Do it anyway.
Specifically, sometime today, take five minutes and do this:
- put down your phone (you’ll live, I promise)
- go outside
- walk, slowly
- still the noise in your head
- breathe deeply
It doesn’t matter if you live and work in the country or in the city. Get outside and slow down for a few minutes. Autumn is upon us most places in the States…look around and see the reds, yellows, and oranges. Listen to the birds sing or the dogs bark. Feel the sunshine, which feels good this time of year. Notice the breeze blowing on your face. Smell the scents of Fall.
A few minutes outside is a good thing. It relieves stress. It gives your eyes a break from your computer screen or your books. It stretches your legs. It gives you time to focus. It lets you think about things that are really important instead of only things that are urgent.
Hopefully this little challenge will somehow become part of not just a routine but part of what it means for you to live simply, Christian.
So…how’d it go?
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common—this is my symphony.
Jesus called his first followers to the pathway of simplicity in their own time that still resonates for those who seek to find wholeness in their daily tasks. He invited them to move from anxiety about many things to experiencing peace in all things by following the one God in the many adventures of life. To harried followers then and now, Jesus suggested an alternative way of life, grounded in trusting God’s presence and seeking God’s realm in every situation.
Let’s embrace our creative moments when they present themselves instead of waiting until we are ready.
I found the Anne Frank quote I posted earlier on Twitter this morning. In case you missed it:
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
The problem is…I first read it and thought, “Yes!” then read it a few more times through the day, then thought about it some more…and here it is, the close of the day.
What did I do today to act on her wisdom and encouragement? Nothing.
Did I do anything today to start to improve the world? Sadly, no.
So today, I failed miserably. But today is not over and tomorrow is another day. Continuous opportunities to grab the moments with which we have been blessed and use them to start something.
Start something small. Start something big.
It really doesn’t matter so long as you start something.
Start changing the world!
Mary [Magdalene] represents the ‘rebel consciousness’ that is essential to Jesus’ gospel. Wherever the gospel is preached, we must remember that its good news will make you crazy. Jesus will put you at odds with the economic and political systems of our world. This gospel will force you to act, interrupting the world as it is in ways that make even pious people indignant.
What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did he fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seeds fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.
As a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I was taught to ‘move with a purpose’ and always walk quickly, as though a brisk pace was itself sign of a brilliant leader. For years, I would go from here to there with a caffeinated pace that would make any Adjutant proud (if you’re not familiar with an Adjutant’s walk, watch this and this).
Then I got over it…and slowed down.
I’ve found that walking quickly from place to place, even when not running late, creates stress all by itself. Slowing down not only removes that stress, it allows me to enjoy the sights / sounds / smells along the way, have some time to think / plan / pray, and just plain relax a bit.
Does slowing down make for simple living of the Christian life? Not necessarily, but the mindset that comes from slowing down fosters the mindset needed for simple living. In fact, the simple life is, in part, a slower life freed from the busyness we’ve come to call ‘normal.’
So I have for you an experiment, a challenge, a baby step (no pun intended) toward simplicity. It is an experiment in the lost art of sauntering. Next time you’re heading out the door:
- leave five minutes early
- slow down…maybe even to the point where it feels awkward
- walk through the grass (yes, I hear some of you gasp)
- notice your surroundings
- repeat often
So, how’d it go? What do you think?
Which is your favorite?
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.
—1 Timothy 6.17-19 (HCSB)
(In case you missed it, see ‘traveling light, a theology of simplicity’)
We are all striving toward something.
We are all heading in some direction.
We are are all living for some purpose.
Many, at least in the United States, have some concept of the ‘good life’ or the ‘American dream’…usually involving:
- a house of a certain size in a desireable neighborhood
- a certain number of children (or none at all)
- a certain level of income (usually more than we currently make)
- a certain amount of ‘toys’
- a certain car our social circle would admire
- clothing by a certain designer
- and so on and so forth
The bottom line is that, for many of us, the ‘good life’ typically revolves around stuff.
I’d like to propose that, as Christians, we should be focused not on living the ‘good life’ but living the ‘real life.’ More than this, it is the simple living of the Christian life that helps make the this ‘real life’ a reality.
The real life focuses on others
Paul’s instruction to the wealthy…and, yes, if you’re an American, you’re rich beyond measure compared to most of the world…is to use their wealth to help others. ”Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come” (v.18). His focus is not to condemn the rich, condemn riches, or insist we live lives of voluntary poverty. Instead, we are encouraged to use the resources God has freely given us to benefit others. We should not be obsessed with monetary riches but be rich in good works. We should not be ones to hoard our wealth but always be generous and willing to share that which God has richly provided us to enjoy (v. 17). While the Christian life should always place others above ourselves, getting caught up in the trappings of the ‘good life’ can distract us. The focus of the ‘real life’ is not on ourselves but on others.
The real life focuses on faith
If our security comes from what we’ve put into our savings accounts, our 401k, or our mattress, we will never live the real life. We will never achieve peace, especially in times like those today, and we will certainly not be prone to cheerfully share what we have. But if, as Paul exhorts, we find our security in God, the true source of our provision and security, our lives cannot help but be characterized by both security and charity. The Christian life reminds us of this truth and grounds us in Christ as our true provider and security. Simple living only enhances our security when we are living at the point where our lifestyle isn’t completely tied to our paychecks and our lives reflect our confession. Just as traveling light requires faith, so too does living the real life.
The real life is truly the good life
Here’s a dirty little secret: the ‘good life’ as we usually define it is a facade, a farce, and a sham. It’s a product of advertising firms and credit card companies. And, for many, the ‘American dream’ is dead. You know what? The ‘good life’ as we usually define it isn’t that great after all. Despite what our culture, our television commercials, and our fallen human nature tells us, life isn’t about accumulating things. It is about enjoying what God has given us and sharing it with others.
The ‘real life’ is the ‘good life’ we’ve been so desperately chasing after.
We need to realize it has been right before our eyes all along.
The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off.
– Peter Maurin
Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
Then [Jesus] sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. “Take nothing for the road,” He told them, “no walking stick, no traveling bag, no bread, no money; and don’t take an extra shirt.”
Luke 9.2-3 (HCSB)
Does being a Christian have anything to do with simple living? I believe it does. Twice Jesus sent out his disciples (first the 12, then the 72) into the world to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Twice he exhorted them to travel light. Why?
Traveling light minimizes distraction
If all I take with me is just what I need, then there is little risk of getting sidetracked or distracted along the way. I’m not talking about stopping periodically to enjoy the scenery, savor a cup of coffee, or smell the proverbial roses–in fact, I’ll encourage that–but stopping to check email “just once more” because we’re conditioned to often results in loosing precious hours without even realizing it because email led to Twitter, which led to Facebook, which led to surfing, and so on. The urgency of the crises facing the world today requires action, not distraction. Being engaged with others via email, social media, and other avenues is a great way to coordinate, plan, and raise awareness, but if we become slaves to our inboxes then those avenues have become hindrances, not helps.
Traveling light brings freedom
Less ‘stuff’ necessarily means more freedom. A storage unit filled with things you’ve not used in years is an anchor that keeps you in one spot, physically and emotionally. Dragging along a wealth of things to ‘entertain’ the kids when you hit the road practically guarantees no one will have any real adventures, just virtual ones. When Jesus sent the disciples out with only the essentials, he ensured they were not tied down to worldly concerns and had no hindrances to movement. They could go wherever they were led or wherever there was a need. So we too, when unencumbered, have the flexibility to truly respond to the needs we face, wherever they might be.
Traveling light requires faith
Perhaps the most obvious point about traveling light is that is requires us to step out on faith and trust in God’s providential care for us. Many of us like to have backups for our backups and multiple safety nets…just in case. While a backup plan isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not only can we be paralyzed by waiting for “just the right time” to act–which never comes, by the way–too much old-fashioned, American, self-reliance actually shows a lack of faith. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m suggesting we throw caution to the wind at every opportunity, but we would no doubt all do better to trust God more and trust ourselves less.
(more thoughts on the theology of simplicity coming soon…)
Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.
Mike Donghia has recently released his first e-book titled, “Rise Above the Noise.” In it, he describes the ‘noise’ that clutters and fills much of our lives…but more importantly, he teaches how we might “Rise Above the Noise” through simple living. Unlike many of the recent books on simplicity and minimalism, Mike spends less time than most on the ‘hows’ of simplicity (though he certainly does write about that), focusing more on the ‘whys’ of a simple life.
It is his story of the ‘why’ that makes this work so appealing and sets it apart from the others. His to-the-point writing style makes for a quick, convincing read and a compelling advocacy of simplicity. If you’re looking for a list of “100 Things You Should Do to Simplify Your Life,” you won’t find it here. What you will find, and what we are indebted to Mike for reminding us of, is a focus on the real benefits to be found from simplifying our lives. Pruning the busyness of life is about so much more than creating idle time to do nothing. Mike points out the true benefits of simplicity/minimalism, including healthy relationships, time for creativity, personal growth, and contentment, among others.
You can read more about his book, check out other reviews, and get your own copy of “Rise Above the Noise” at The Art of Minimalism.
We are a culture of busyness.
If it were not so, why would so many of us feel the need to always be doing something:
- checking email
- checking voicemail
- updating our Facebook status
- working on weekends
- making calls
- receiving calls
- commenting on blogs
- and so on and so on ad infinitum?!
If it were not so, how could David Allen achieve legendary status for teaching us how to get things done? If it were not so, how could so many of us feel overworked, overwhelmed, stretched too thin, stressed out, worn out, and fed up with work and family life?
And you know what? I’m as busy as you are. The calendar picture above is a realscreenshot of my real calendar…or at least the real expectations others have upon my time. I obviously don’t fulfill all those expectations all the time because, quite honestly, not only is there no way for me to simultaneously be four places at once but I don’t need to meet all those expectations.
That last part is in italics because it is important. Once more with feeling:
You and I don’t need to meet everyone else’s expectations.
This is a simple but profound concept…and one that is terribly liberating. I’m not suggesting we merely toss everyone else’s expectations aside with blatant disregard. People are extremely important and can/do/must play a role in shaping what we choose to do, but ultimately the decision is yours and mine.
What I am saying is that you don’t have to do everything (and you shouldn’t), and you don’t have to feel guilty about not doing it all.
It’s okay to say no.
When we free up our time from the tyranny of everyone else’s expectations, it frees us to focus on what is truly important–it frees our time to spend it with those we love and to spend it serving others.
It’s up to you.
Of the 10 definitions given by Merriam Webster for the word ‘simple,’ only one is derogatory. The other nine are positive…though that isn’t how we often tend to use the word. For most of us, we use the word ‘simple’ in the condescending, derogatory sense cited by Webster:
lacking in knowledge or expertise;
not socially or culturally sophisticated
While part of us wants desperately to consider ourselves ‘sophisticated,’ I want to challenge you to use three other definitions listed by Webster to think about the simple life:
free from vanity;
not limited or restricted
free from vanity
If our current culture is anything, it is vain. Check out the magazine aisle, turn on the TV, browse around the web…you can’t miss it. Honestly, you’ll have a hard time getting away from it if you try! Ours is a culture obsessed by the thin veneer of appearances but one that is more-often-than-not lacking in any meaningful substance. I could list a host of examples of the vanity and silliness that dominates much of our day-to-day life, but I won’t.
I’m over it. You should be too. Be who you are, who God created you to be. Stop worrying about what fashionistas say about what should be in your closet, what Hollywood says about how large your breasts or how small your waist should be, and about what HGTV thinks your house has to have inside it. These are all veneer. These are all expensive, not only in cash but in time, energy, space. They are all restrictive in the sense that they divert you from being able to look beyond yourself to the rest of the world.
Live free from vanity, live simply.
What are you about? What do you stand for? What are your passions? How would your neighbors, friends, or co-workers answer those questions about you? Do you have a cause / dream / idea that really gets you excited or do you just stumble through life, day by day?
As I read through Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns…for the forth or fifth time, it’s easy to say what he is about. Richard is about living out the whole gospel of Jesus and encouraging others to do the same. From reading his words this passion comes across as plainly as if he wore it on a sign around his neck. But he doesn’t have to, his life reflects it unmistakeably.
If other people were asked those questions about me, I’d hope they would answer something to the effect of, “T.C. is passionate about his family serving others, near and far, in the name of Christ.” Surely not everyone would answer that way…I’m on this journey too. But that is the vision I’m working toward, and in theory it’s a simple one. How do you want others to be able to describe you in a single sentence? If that isn’t how people would describe you today, how will you focus on that passion to make it reality?
Live a life that is readily understood, live simply.
not limited or restricted
One thing I love and admire about minimalists (Everett Bogue, Tammy Strobel, Leo Babauta etc.) is that they aren’t unnecessarily tied down by ‘stuff.’ By American standards, my family is not rich, but by the standards of the rest of the world we’re wealthy beyond compare and have tons of ‘stuff.’
For example, between being a bibliophile in general and a recent seminary graduate, I have tons and tons of books. Recently, I’ve been going through them with the goal of cutting down several cases (not shelves) worth of books. Many of them I’ve given away. Some I’ve thrown away. Some I’ve sold to raise money for our adoption. Right now I have two boxes I’m going to sell and donate the proceeds to charity–freeing me of ‘stuff’ and allowing me to impact others.
What do you have a wealth of…books, clothes, CDs, DVDs, trinkets, (fill in the blank)? Do you own it or does it own you? How could you benefit from decluttering? How could others benefit?
Live a life that is not limited or restricted, live simply.
In the days to come, we’ll look at some tangible ways to move in the direction of simplicity. Will it require a change in mindset? Yes. Will it require a change in priorities? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes!
One of the baby steps on the road to simple living is decluttering…travelling light, as Saint-Exupery said. Few of us, if any, have to worry about finding things to fill our homes. On the contrary, I can think of almost a dozen self-storage facilities within a ten minute drive of my home, a fact that belies our incredible American wealth in comparison with the rest of the world.
We’re rarely ever truly in want of something we need; instead we struggle with how we are going to store all the things we have acculumlated through the years. Our closets overflow into our attics and garages, which overflow into storage units–and sometimes even more than one! Do we need it? No. Do we use it all? Nope. Do we use even the vast majority of it? Not a chance.
This isn’t simple living, this is chaotic living…and it stresses me out.
A couple of months ago, I was standing in my closet choosing what I was going to wear, much like you do every morning. As I looked at the several dozen shirts I had hanging there, I chose one of the seven or so I tend to wear all the time, just like you do. Just then it hit me like a ton of bricks…why do I have all these other shirts? I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore many of them, so why where they there? No reason.
Then I started throwing all the shirts I hadn’t worn for a while in a pile on our bathroom floor. Next, I did the same with pants. Finally, I did the same with shoes. After a while I had a pile that was as large as it was depressing. Why so much stuff? Why so much stuff I didn’t need or use? I didn’t need it, but I knew there were others that could make good use of it…so I folded everything up, bagged it all up, and took THREE large garbage bags of perfectly good but never used clothes to Goodwill.
My closet instantly became more practical and less stressful. Hopefully someone who needed some clothes was able to pick them up for a super-reasonable price. I benefited from having a more reasonable number of clothes, and I was able to share from the abundance with which I’ve been blessed to help others. Perfect.
So how do you go about beginning to declutter? I’m tempted to say just go for it, but invariably some guidelines would be helpful. Everett Bogue suggests the 30-day rule for keeping clutter to a minimum. In other words, if you haven’t used it in 30 days, get rid of it. Leo Babauta uses a 6-month guideline. I didn’t set a fixed time for this first round in my closet, but if I couldn’t remember wearing something recently, out it went.
What’s next? Choose another area in your home and repeat it. Maybe it’s time to declutter your kitchen, or your garage, or your (insert room here)? As a huge bibliophile, I set out to declutter my bookshelves, leaving home for Half Price Books with several boxes of books and returning home with nearly $100. Not bad for getting rid of things I didn’t want anyway, right?
The question now is, what’s keeping you from getting started? Go for it!
Fact: I’m busy.
Assumption: You’re busy.
You’ve seen my calendar before, so you’ve seen firsthand the expectations that others have placed on me. Honestly, even if I wanted to attend all the meetings and events on my calendar, which I don’t, the fact that people book multiple simulataneous meeting would make it physically impossible. That used to really stress me out…
One of the first steps involved in simple living is the addition of one small word to your vocabulary: ‘No.’ It sounds simple, sure, but we’ve been trained not to say it. We’ve been conditioned to say ‘yes’ to every expectation that comes our way. Bosses expect us to take on whatever they assign us without so much as the smallest pushback. Friends and family always have something going on that we’re expected to participate in. Throw in kids’ sports, church activities, and the rest of life and it’s easy to let others’ expectations nearly crush us.
So how do we learn to say no? How do we say it and get away with it? How does saying no align with simple living or with living the Christian life?
At one time or another, the most widely-read minimalist and productivity bloggers have written on the subject of saying no. Instead of simply reinventing the wheel, let’s take a look at some of their pearls of wisdom and see how they relate to living simply, Christian…shall we?
Everett Bogue (@evbogue) on “Far Beyond the Stars” reminds us that we can only properly say no after we’ve first identified and prioritized what is most important to us:
It can be powerful to know what is most important to you, because then you can begin to focus on only the essential…Once you’ve identified the essential, you have to start saying no to things that come your way which don’t coincide with your interests.
In other words, saying no isn’t just some sort of random act we take to clear up our schedules. While that might work in the short-term, it ultimately doesn’t help you achieve anything meaningful in the long-term. In fact, it’s probably counter productive. Saying no to the ‘fluff’ and the extraneous is complementary to saying yes to those things that help keep you focused on the essential. Remember, you have to say yes to your own priorities first before you can know to say no to the non-essentials.
Celes Chua (@celestinechua) on “The Personal Excellence Blog” faces our fears head on when she writes:
Saying no is okay. We keep thinking that it’s not okay, that the other person will feel bad, that we’re being evil, that people will be angry, that we’re being rude, etc. While these stem from good intentions in us, the thing is most of these fears are self-created.
Simple enough, but read those words again, “Saying no is okay.” The truth is, that’s a hard idea for many of us to swallow, especially in light of the ‘yes’-culture in which we live. Honestly, the only folks who have ever gotten angry when I told them ‘no’ were those who created a crisis by their own incompetence. Should we try to help those folks out? Sometimes. Sometimes they need to learn the hard way. Think about it like this…how many folks are really chasing their dreams? How many are truly bringing change to the world? How many are honestly making a difference? Very few, I’m afraid, because no one has time for such things. Make time by saying no.
Joshua Becker (@joshua_becker) of “Becoming Minimalist” writes about the importance of integrity with respect to our commitments:
Sometimes, it’s the 2 and 3 letter words that can be the toughest. When the answer is yes, say ‘yes.’ When the answer is no, say ‘no.’ Be dependable. Follow through on your commitments. And don’t commit to anything that you don’t intend to complete.
When trying to simplify, one of the worst things you can do is keep saying ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘I have no intention of doing this.’ That isn’t polite (see below), that’s just lying. If you really mean ‘no’ then say it. Otherwise, you may be simplifying your life, but you’re making others’ more complicated and being deceitful in the process…hardly the right thing to do.
Finally, Tammy Strobel (@RowdyKittens) of “Rowdy Kittens” fame urges us to say no with style:
Be nice and don’t be a jerk when you say ‘no’ to an invitation or project opportunity. Let the individual know you’d be happy to help in the future, but you can’t participate at this time because of A, B or C. Also, consider referring that person to someone who might be able to help
It’s easy to come across like a jerk when saying no, but it isn’t necessary. In my mind, it goes along with Joshua’s point about being honest. An honest refusal will be appreciated by most, especially those who wish they had the courage to say no themselves. Pointing out someone who may be able to help is just gravy.
There is a lot of great wisdom to be gleaned here, but here’s the most important in my mind: Not only is it possible to say ‘no,’ it is essential. Only after we learn to say no can we get on living the simple Christian life we are striving to live. At first, it may feel uncomfortable…but then again, so do most things worth doing.
Life is just plain busy…for almost all of us, almost all the time. From the time we wake up in the morning until the time we crash in our beds at night, we’re on the go, always connected, continually struggling, and often overwhelmed. I propose that, instead of finding a better way to ‘get things done’ in our increasingly chaotic world, we need to find the energy, motivation, and support to simplify.
Why? Because the things that matter most in an ultimate sense are suffering–our relationships. Our relationships with our spouses, our relationships with our children, our relationships with one another, and our relationships with God.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting we lose ourselves in some romantic notion of ‘the good old days.’ Technology is a wonderful thing, and we are doubtless living in the most remarkable time the world has ever known. I am one of the first to champion the smart use of technology to make our lives easier. The ability we have to communicate worldwide in an instant would seem miraculous to those who lived just a century before us. The opportunity to jump on a plane and be anywhere in the world in a matter of hours is almost like time travel…
But we’re addicted. Sound crazy? It’s true.
Our ‘always on’ world has generated a multitude of means to receive instant feedback on every thought, picture, keystroke, and idea we have…and we’re hooked because it makes us feel indispensable. We struggle to focus on the precious time we have with our children as our smart phones chime away to let us know the emails are coming in–reinforcement that someone finds us important enough to include us on the conversation. In the moments we have to be with our spouses at the beginning or end of a hectic day, we’re distracted by the latest ‘reality’ show or the ‘need’ to know the latest news stories from around the world–because we want to be able to weigh in on conversations online or at work, not that these things affect our lives in any significant way. During those minutes during the day where we find ourselves truly alone with the opportunity to reflect, think, or pray, we get uncomfortable and instead jump on Twitter, Facebook, or our favorite RSS reader–because the noise in our own minds is so deafening that we’ve forgotten what it means to truly slow down and enjoy some peace and quiet.
There’s a better way. The way of simplicity.
It’s the way of healthy relationships as we focus on truly being with those around us. It’s the way of true joy as we once again find enjoyment in the multitude of tiny blessings that fill our days.
It’s the way to change the world as we free ourselves from chaos and find ways to serve others.
That’s what this blog is all about…living simply that we might simply live.
Think how amazing it would be for a king to give a poor beggar man entire city—even his own kingdom, land, and people. The entire world would hole this up as an unprecedented act of love. But that would be trivial compared to Christ giving his body and life for you
What will you do for Christ in return?…Christ simply asks you to show love to your neighbor in a tangible way.
seeing…the faint light beginning to brighten the eastern sky,
feeling…the crisp morning breeze envelop me in its coolness,
hearing…the birds and distant dogs welcoming the dawn,
smelling…the wet earthyness of the morning air, like a newly plowed field,
tasting…the hot bitterness of my coffee as it flows from my cup.
I am thankful for another morning. Simply thankful.
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, ‘What is it?’
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
— Robert Frost
We are all busy, seemingly all the time…and yet, there is a time to talk. A time to talk—free of cell phones, free of computers, free of television, free of gadgets, free of everything else except the one to whom we’re talking.
When was the last time you really talked to someone, about anything? There are things to be done, yes, I know. But put down the hoe…for a friendly visit.
Live simply, simply live.